Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Swing or Go Home.

For five days in late November I was able to fall off the societal map and fish my way across the various tributaries of the Great Lakes. Large steelhead and brown trout were the target and I was breaking in a new switch rod and the accompanying single and double hand lines. After those five days of glory I approached the winter doldrums unable to make the long drive back to the large fish of my dreams. Instead I relied on small wild trout in remote settings and a week long sojourn to the Caribbean to tide me over until the next time I was able to make an extended trip happen. With those trips out of the way, intense cold and snow derailed the months of January and the beginning of February. Cabin Fever set in and I found myself at the vice contemplating, experimenting, and learning. Big nasties, intruders, and tube flies became my vice and the temptation carried over into forming sink tips out of T14 and practicing casting technique from a computer chair. I needed to get away. I found the solution in a spontaneous venture to the Salmon River. The weeks leading up to this past weekend left me little choice but to put in practice all those weeks of hard work. It was swing or go home.

4 Degree Air Over 33 Degree Water = This.

Sunrise = Packed House.

A Friday night lights tying session ended around midnight and I spent an additional hour organizing and packing extra clothing and gear for the trip. I laid down and closed my eyes for half an hour before picking up Adam and driving four hours up 81 North to the destination. Despite little sleep Adam and I were wide awake thanks to several cans of Red Bull and the excitement of a fishing trip. There was plenty of talking, planning, and strategizing going on. We decided on the stop and pulled onto the road eventually coming to a halt in the large parking lot. The morning light was just peeking over the horizon and a gloom hovered above the water. Three anglers were already systematically working the first pool. We stepped out into the cold air and painfully suited up before making our way over the snow and ice to one of the only open runs remaining.

An Angler on the Bend.

A Gang.

An Angler Hooking Up.

I slid down the ice about ten feet on my ass before coming to a halt on the edge of some rocks along the water. Ice extended out from the rocks an additional foot creating hazards for any unaware angler. I was on the wrong side of a deep, fast run perfectly situated for an extended dead drift. The thought crossed my mind before I remembered the agreement. Swing or go home. I took off my gloves and slid the compact skagit head through the guides, looped on a section of T14, and tied on a large sculpin with a tailing hook. I made exactly two feeble casts before an elderly man descended upon me. He asked for some assistance on the ice. I brought my fly in and attached it to my reel. I watched in amazement as the rabbit hair and wool instantly froze solid against the spool. I put the rod down alongside my back pack, hobbled over some rocks, and got into position to catch the senior citizen sliding down the cliff. He thanked me before asking if he could fish on my right or left. I kindly tell him that I would prefer that he fish on my right side because I am swinging a fly through this run. He waddles off to my right. Over a hundred yards of open space exists on my right side but he stops five feet away leaving me zero room for a proper cast with an 11 foot switch rod. I don't bother to say anything, I never do. I stand in shock and wonder. I just take out my camera and snap some pictures of the bend in the river and watch other people "fish".

He's Got Another One.

The old man is fishing a large spey rod and I am anxious to see what kind of skills he has accumulated over his years. Hopefully I can pick up a tip or two and pick his brain while he fishes my spot. I am quickly disappointed. Instead of showing me the ropes he his fishing an extra long leader with a sinker the size of my thumb near the end of it, before a few feet of tippet descend to a large egg pattern the size of a small sandwich. The high vantage point on the rocks combined with the large spey rod allow him to catapult the rig without using any fly line to the prime seam on the other side of the river. The sinker lands with a large thud and the egg pattern instantly plummets to the bottom. He dredges a twenty foot section of seam waiting for a sudden stop before he can rip that rig off the bottom. He hooks up twice before I decide to leave, failing to land both fish. A quick glance around the bend and six or seven anglers are employing the same tactics. I gather my frozen rig and head off looking for some space.



Let The Running Line Go Boom.

The scenario repeats itself throughout the day. I work my way up and down river picking and choosing the open spots while swinging flies in the coldest weather I have ever fished. All without a bump or pull. It is the worst possible scenario to swing flies in. I am fishing sloppy thirds, fourths, and fifths. The air temperature doesn't make its way out of the teens and the water temperature is 33 degrees. The only thing I really have going for me are the overcast skies and the lack of other people fishing the way I am. Adam is left in a similar predicament. We try everything we have. Big hulking intruders, bunny leeches, woolhead sculpins, woolly buggers, zuddlers, and classic wet fly patterns in all colors. We register one bump throughout the entire day. It came on Adam's third cast on the large pink intruder from Saturday Night Lights. The cold leaves our hands and feet without feeling as they cling to life next to hand warmers. We watch other people fishing and witness several hook ups. None on the swing. Adam decides he has had enough. It is around 4 o'clock and I am growing desperate. I am freezing my ass off and have nothing to show for it.

Snowed All Day.

A Lucky Young Gun.

Wishing, Watching, Waiting.

We turn on the truck and I stick my rod and reel across the vents before turning the heat on full blast. I loosen up the reel seat before taking my skagit rig off and attaching a new reel. Brand new 9wt Steelhead Sharkskin. I love the smell of new Sharkskin. If you have bought it, you'll know what I am talking about. I have one hour to work with and I am going to be mending an indicator rig like a boss. I attach one medium sized split shot on the tail of a 3x loop knot before looping on a foot of 4x. I wade out into the middle of the run and work the opposite bank. After several attempts the indicator takes a plunge and I tie into a buck. The instantaneous thrashing brings a smile to my face and I silently scream **** yea to myself three or four times. During the brief battle I can feel all my extremities and I am awash in adrenaline. I work the fish to the bank and Adam helps me corral it in the water. It never leaves the water because it is far too cold. The buck's gills would freeze and the fish would die. The hook comes out by itself and I tail the fish in the water before releasing it back on it's way. A few moments after the release I suddenly am reminded of the weather as my hands ice up and I let out a cry of pain.

We pack it in. Adam tells me we are going home. I broke the day's rule.

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